The re-experience of trauma and its endlessness

PreciousChild

MyPTSD Pro
In Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk describes the re-experience of trauma as being timeless. If I remember correctly, when we're triggered, our amydyla is activated, and it can only experience the immediacy of the present and become activated to fight or flight. It has no history or sense of time. So when I'm triggered, I revert to the reality of shame, fear and hurt as though it is happening in the moment and that it will never end. If for example, my boyfriend does something callous, I become simply as unloveable and despicable as I felt as a child (why else would my parents abuse me), and there was never any time I was not and never any time I will be any different. If I didn't have cptsd, I probably could remember that he did a dozen nice things for me just earlier that day, and has never intentionally hurt me, and that I have healed immensely and act kindly most of the time. But in that moment, none of that exists. Only the never-ending trauma exists and I cannot imagine any other reality past, present or future.

Can anyone share some insights into this? I actually am getting better at recognizing when I'm triggered, but it is so hard to make smart, empathic, and objective decisions when my reality is experienced as so catastrophic (though it doesn't reflect actual reality at all). For example, I will feel urgency about getting my need for recognition met even though the right thing at the moment is to compromise or let someone else have their moment.
 

StillPen

MyPTSD Pro
So when I'm triggered, I revert to the reality of shame, fear and hurt as though it is happening in the moment and that it will never end. If for example, my boyfriend does something callous, I become simply as unloveable and despicable as I felt as a child
Same, you just wrote my book...for me add self-hatred, paralyzing fear, a sense of 'no way out' an overwhelming urge to run, and an all or nothing thinking in the moment that if he is this callous to me, it needs to be over...I don't see it as him simply being callous or frustrated, it feels like verbal/emotional abuse in the moment. Even after it is over, I have a hard time discerning the difference...I am so easily triggered by the tones in his voice. It took me a long time to understand/realize I was triggered ... that it had to be me that changed, not him. But how do you change when your brain is doing something you have no conrltrol over? This where exposure therapy is very difficult if not impossible for me, the exposure to elevated voices, aggressive behavior, sharp tones, etc., just re-traumatize me over and over ... I guess the very definition of C/PTSD. I look forward to other's feedback and thank you for sharing...you are doing good work to dig deep and ask the hard questions.
 

PreciousChild

MyPTSD Pro
Thanks @StillPen. Exactly:

But how do you change when your brain is doing something you have no conrltrol over?

Even after thinking that I had become aware of and dealt with the internal dimensions of "reality" when I'm triggered, I'm finding new, more subtle layers. I'm finding that the timeless aspect of the re-experience is a huge obstacle for me. It closes me off from all context and perspectives.
 
I saw this and thought on it, because it's instictive to say ground and reason logically. But because it's also so emotional, one thinks it must be necessary to go to the body.

But when I really think about it, and especially working with people often sort of trapped in a different time, I would say trust. Trust, and stop. I know no other way that actually works.

Best wishes to you.
 

PreciousChild

MyPTSD Pro
Thanks @Rosebud. So trust and stop. I do think I've healed a lot from having my boyfriend give me what I need in this, concrete reality. That goes a long way in refuting the alternate reality inside. Usually the best I can do when I'm triggered is to refrain from acting on my traumatized-tinted reactions. But I'm usually glad that I rode out the wave of emotions rather than direct them at my bf unfairly. Maybe that goes along with what you're saying.
 

OliveJewel

MyPTSD Pro
being timeless. If I remember correctly, when we're triggered, our amydyla is activated, and it can only experience the immediacy
Helpful information—I was not aware
reality of shame, fear and hurt as though it is happening in the moment and that it will never end.
Reality of shame, fear, and hurt? These happen whether the event is current or remembered. The reality is that feelings always change, they always end. Both pain and joy.
something callous,
If he is doing anything callous you have the right to object.
why else would my parents abuse me)
I know you were asking hypothetically, to understand your own perspective, but I feel compelled to answer: because they were bad evil sadistic and/or immature people.
never any time
Black and white thinking? Cognitive distortion?
am getting better at recognizing when I'm triggered, but it is so hard
Yes and yes and yes.

You are doing good work.
 
give me what I need in this, concrete reality. That goes a long way in refuting the alternate reality inside. Usually the best I can do when I'm triggered is to refrain from acting on my traumatized-tinted reactions. But I'm usually glad that I rode out the wave of emotions rather than direct them .. unfairly. Maybe that goes along with what you're saying.
Yes @PreciousChild it does go along with it I think, very much so. To ask (and be able to ask), to trust someone enough and feel confident they can decipher the reality and will honestly say so, stop, trust that what they are saying is true, follow their brain if you can't your own (by virtue of recognizing reactivity or greater reactivity than you would expect to have). (The amygdala is like an on-off switch, it doesn't allow for the objectivity that may come later).

And somewhere, I know dealing with others, it's both the relationship long-term, calm, and the trust which will be the deciding factor in most cases, provided there is also communication. Without communication it's more likely the only one you'll be communicating with is yourself, and a lit up amygadala won't be worried about looking for evidence to the contrary of what you've been triggered by and what you fear (are certain) it likely means or foreshadows. It connects many dots quickly and trips the alarm.
 

Movingforward10

MyPTSD Pro
The way I see being triggered and going back to 'back then' is exactly how you describe it. And it totally overwhelms and consumes everything. Body on full alert. Timeless.
But ......it is possible to work on being in the here and now.
The way I can explain that is somehow working on the being totally consumed by the feeling, to being able to 'peer around the feeling'. By having just a little voice in your head that says "it's ok, this feeling is a memory and not from today" and letting that voice grow.
It really really helps.
Also, remembering that feelings pass. So hard to remember, or at least I found it hard, when triggered and overwhelmed. But that helped too. It's a feeling and it will pass.
Adding in, that it's a feeling from the past and not today.
And it begins to get easier......
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
i am currently wondering if a memory is just a memory and the difference between a flashback and nostalgia is how i react. the harder i fight it, the more lost i become, whatever the proverbial forest i am lost in. i typically don't fight so viciously when i am lost in pleasant nostalgia. i fight like a beaten crazy bitch wolf when i am lost in an experience from the kiddie whorehouses. as with my four-legged sisters, i am as likely to bite a helping hand as the hands which beat me. ain't hypervigilance grand?

in recent rounds, i have been working on a method i call, "mining for gems." even a child prostitute has things in his/her youth worth remembering. memories which don't deserve to be buried in the convoluted mindslides of trauma. rescue efforts warranted. when those traumatic memories emerge, i work to look past the monsters and find those tragically neglected precious gems. they are worth digging for, whatever the muck and mire they are buried in.

just a theory from a beaten crazy bitch wolf. . .
 

PreciousChild

MyPTSD Pro
Thanks all for your thoughtful responses. First of all, it's just nice knowing that I'm not the only one this is happening to. This is why this forum is so helpful - friends and family do not necessarily understand any of this, and it would be hard to convey the experience to someone who do not share it.

@OliveJewel, thanks for saying this:
I know you were asking hypothetically, to understand your own perspective, but I feel compelled to answer: because they were bad evil sadistic and/or immature people.
Yes, I just threw it out to describe what happens, but your reminder is much appreciated. Also thanks for the reminder that callous behavior deserves a proportional reaction. It's much easier to react more fairly though when I'm not swamped with the entire history of abuse, and here is my boyfriend in front of me acting callously. If I'm feeling really swamped, I pause for a very long time to figure out what he can help me resolve, and try to distinguish that from the huge load of shit that he could never help me unshovel in that moment. That pile is for me to keep on unshoveling over time (with his continued support).

This is so interesting:
Without communication it's more likely the only one you'll be communicating with is yourself, and a lit up amygadala won't be worried about looking for evidence to the contrary of what you've been triggered by and what you fear (are certain) it likely means or foreshadows. It connects many dots quickly and trips the alarm.
I didn't think of my boyfriend's feedback in quite this way, but I see what you're saying. By trusting him and allowing his words to soak in, I am preventing my head from becoming an echo chamber where my traumatized responses are the only voices. But that is really hard to do in the midst of a trigger. The way van der Kolk describes it, trying to hear reason while re-experiencing trauma would be just like trying to talk oneself down while facing down a lion who is about to attack. It is a mortal fear that takes over, just as we as children thought we would literally die because our care-takers might abandon us. So I do think it will continue to be a challenge, but it definitely has gotten better over time. I think trust is a big one. I feel like it's key for healing in other ways as well. I've been aware of and working on my betrayal trauma.

being able to 'peer around the feeling'
I think I know what you mean by this, and I think I do this in my own way. With experience, I've developed this small, little voice that reminds me that this could be a remnant from the past and not a part of actual reality, and so maybe we shouldn't go full force in acting on this "reality". In my 20's, I so wholly bought into the traumatized reality when I was triggered that I had no distance between myself and the reactions I was having, which were frequent. That was so gut-wrenching, and it deepened and added to my trauma because I acted in the world guided by this alternate reality.

Also, remembering that feelings pass. So hard to remember, or at least I found it hard, when triggered and overwhelmed.
I think this is really important. But when you are re-experiencing trauma as something that is your reality forever, it's very hard to conceive of the idea that there is any other reality or time than the feeling you are having. But I do think that is the right path to try and grow the distance between the traumatized reality and you.

i am currently wondering if a memory is just a memory and the difference between a flashback and nostalgia is how i react.
I'm not sure, @arfie. To me, memory is cognitive, but a flashback is a mind-body, visceral experience. I wouldn't want to interpret my reactions to flashbacks as a choice I make over and above a staid, cognitive memory. From my understanding, flashbacks are literal re-experiences of "trapped" trauma. I am not a psychologist, but I've read extensively, and what I gather is that unresolved trauma are driven into the unconscious realm where they live intact and permanently until they somehow find resolution. They can only find resolution when they get satisfied in reality which is why they keep recurring. They are attempting to reenact what happened so that it can finally find fulfillment. I think successful re-parenting can go a long way in providing lasting resolutions.

i work to look past the monsters and find those tragically neglected precious gems. they are worth digging for, whatever the muck and mire they are buried in.
Thanks for these thoughts. The way I would incorporate these insights would be in re-parenting. If you were denied love and safety, giving that to your inner child by foregrounding the gems and maybe saying that this is what you deserved and should have gotten more of. I think that's beautiful, and I think your ability to do that despite your crazy bitch wolf moments is beautiful and says a lot about you.
 

Freddyt

MyPTSD Pro
There is a point in my memories of both traumas where memory "shatters" for want of a better word. There are bits and pieces, nothing solid, no timeline, just that feeling - everybody here knows it. When triggered enough or long enough, or having flashbacks I can reach those memories.
At that point, it becomes what van der Kolk described. That endless timeless "fog" after trauma. Bits and pieces. Shattered memories. It's the worst place to go. It takes a while to get back to stable after those events. Like i said to my T its like the trauma is a little crack - that leads to this huge dark cave. Every time I end up there I have to fight and find my way out.
 
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